For a long time, it was thought full ROM training was always better than partials.
For muscle growth. Strength gains. And, of course, looking like you know you sh*t in the gym (you've probably done your fair share of eye rolls 🙄 at obnoxious grunters in the gym barely half-repping ten plates on the leg press — like, maybe lighten the load and actually work your quads?)
Turns out, all that sass may be misplaced.
Because a growing number of studies have found partials produce better hypertrophy outcomes than full ROM.
And, since strength is somewhat associated with muscle mass, this also means partials are likely to make you stronger than full ROM training.
What in the world …
We know. We’re shocked, too. So, let’s look at the research and figure out what it means for our workout sessions together.
The body of evidence showing full ROM < partials
As of writing, there are 4 studies investigating the relationship between ROM training and resulting muscle growth. Since that’s still a number countable on 1 hand ✋, we’ll briefly run through each:
2️⃣ 2021 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports: Participants who performed only the initial range of motion on the leg press reported similar changes in quadriceps thickness as those who did full ROM training (i.e., suggesting that partials may be as effective as full ROM at eliciting hypertrophy).
3️⃣ 2022 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science: Participants assigned to the initial ROM training experienced modestly greater increases in their rectus femoris — FYI, part of the quads — cross-sectional area than all other groups, including those who did full ROM training, on the knee extension.
4️⃣ 2023 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Participants who trained with the initial range of motion reported a more than 2-fold increase in calf thickness (specifically, in the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius) than those in the full ROM group on the calf raises. Psst, want to leave the days of having a twig-like lower body behind for good? Then learn how to perform the calf raises for growth here. And while you're at that, you might as well bulk up your hamstrings!
Not just any partial ROM will do …
😮💨 Woo, catch a breath. Now, carefully examine the studies; do you see the pattern?
Here’s a hint: it has to do with the type of partials that led to either equal or even better muscle growth results than full ROM. That’s right. They’re all initial ROM training.
Really quickly, think about how the target muscles behave in the initial ROM during …
- Skull crushers (triceps): Lengthened
- Leg press (quads and glutes): Lengthened
- Knee extension (quads): Lengthened
- Calf raises (calves): Lengthened
Meaning? The evidence only supports lengthened partials as better than full ROM training.
In fact, if you went ahead and checked out those 4 studies yourself in more detail, you’d find that full ROM consistently led to better hypertrophy results than final partials (e.g., performing leg presses from the mid-range to full contraction).
Default: lengthened partial range of motion instead of full ROM?
Right. So, moving forward, does this mean you should always strive for lengthened partials in your training program? Well, you could — but it might not always be practical. Or safe.
Case in point: the barbell back squat.
What do lengthened partials look like for that? You'll get from the most difficult bottom position to the mid-point of your rep. You'll never complete the rep. You'll never catch a break.
Plus, most people "re-set" their brace at the top, meaning you'll probably have to skip that too. If you haven't already inferred, it's pure agony 🔥
At this point, all we’re trying to say is this: lengthened partials may give you equivalent or better hypertrophy results than full ROM, but they’re not always suitable for every exercise. Generally, a great rule of thumb would be only to emphasize lengthened partials for single-joint, isolation, or machine-based exercises.
Examples include (note: this is a non-exhaustive list):
- Biceps: Behind-the-back cable or dumbbell curl
- Triceps: Skull crushers and overhead cable triceps extension
- Shoulders: Machine shoulder press (focus on the bottom to mid-rep range)
- Back: Seated cable row (get a really good stretch without letting your shoulders round forward)
- Quads: Leg extension
- Glutes: Cable kickback
- Hamstrings: Choose the seated hamstring curl over the lying version where available (the former puts your hamstrings in a greater stretch than the latter)
- Calves: Calf raises
Also, please do not chase lengthened partials when you don’t have the mobility for it 🥲
Learn why here:
And if you need mobility help …
Need help with the big picture?
OK, knowing the specific type of partials to do (and the exercises you could do) is great.
But what's the use if you don't know how to apply it to your training? Or what if you aren't even working with a documented workout program — and are just hacking it all together when you get to the gym?
That won’t do.
“Bu – but … I don’t have the luxury of hiring a personal trainer/I don’t know enough to plan my own workouts/I struggle with motivation!”
We hear you (and many others like you).
This is why we created GymStreak, the smart AI-powered workout planner + tracker (not powered by ChatGPT, btw) that’ll tailor your training program to your specific needs, from your lifting experience to schedule availability. It’s waaaaay cheaper than getting a personal trainer and helps you easily keep track of your progress so you stay motivated.
Plus, we're constantly hard at work adding new features to support your fitness journey better (we introduced the nutrition tracker feature a while back!)
So … what do you say? If you’re interested, here’s a peek at our app 👀:
*sigh of relief* We'll guide you through it all — step-by-step. Just download the app, and you'll be making progress toward your dream body like never before.
Goto, Masahiro, et al. “Partial Range of Motion Exercise Is Effective for Facilitating Muscle Hypertrophy and Function Through Sustained Intramuscular Hypoxia in Young Trained Men.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 33, no. 5, May 2019, pp. 1286–94. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002051.
Kassiano, Witalo, et al. “Greater Gastrocnemius Muscle Hypertrophy After Partial Range of Motion Training Performed at Long Muscle Lengths.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Apr. 2023. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000004460.
Maeo, Sumiaki, et al. “Greater Hamstrings Muscle Hypertrophy but Similar Damage Protection after Training at Long versus Short Muscle Lengths.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 53, no. 4, Apr. 2021, pp. 825–37. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000002523.
Pedrosa, Gustavo F., et al. “Partial Range of Motion Training Elicits Favorable Improvements in Muscular Adaptations When Carried out at Long Muscle Lengths.” European Journal of Sport Science, vol. 22, no. 8, Aug. 2022, pp. 1250–60. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2021.1927199.
Werkhausen, Amelie, et al. “Adaptations to Explosive Resistance Training with Partial Range of Motion Are Not Inferior to Full Range of Motion.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, vol. 31, no. 5, May 2021, pp. 1026–35. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13921.